The Canadian flag, with its iconic red Maple Leaf, would have been hard to miss during Canada Day celebrations, but the filmmaker behind a new documentary on notable Canadian graphic design says there are other symbols worth some attention.
Vancouver graphic designer Greg Durrell is referring to a virtual constellation of such emblems as the Canadian National Railway logo, the Centennial symbol of Canada, the logo for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the Royal Bank of Canada logo, the logo for the SkyDome in Toronto and the classic CBC logo.
How they all evolved, from idea through sketch to iconic, is the focus of Mr. Durrell’s film, Design Canada, a newly released labour-of-love production that took the first-time movie maker six years to create.
Douglas Coupland, broadcaster George Stroumboulopoulos and leaders in the design realm are among the voices in the film talking about the relevance of key designs to Canada’s identity.
In essence, Mr. Durrell makes a case that the design of the current Canadian flag, confirmed in 1965 after ferocious political debate, was a springboard for a redefinition of Canada, which led to a reassessment of familiar logos and symbols associated with key institutions in this country.
In one example of how good design can work, the film notes that the near-final design for the familiar flag had a Maple Leaf with 13 individual points, which looked a little too heavy at the base. Designers working to finalize the look of the leaf dropped two points to create a more streamlined version.
Referring to the flag redesign, Mr. Durrell said in the interview that the successful process “gave design a credibility in this country that allowed the profession to flourish.”
Now, with designs that are now fixtures of Canadian life, Mr. Durrell says Canada Day is a good point to reflect on that change.
“I hope this film will inspire people to begin to think about what symbols are going to define us in the next generation,” Mr. Durrell said in an interview. “These symbols represent us globally.”
“Whether or not these symbols designed us, or we designed them is the question this documentary asks,” he said. “The symbols we chose to identify with really define us as a people and nation.”
While many of the symbols in the film are for corporate and government interests, Mr. Durrell said symbols can be an “undervalued tool” for other causes as well.
“Great design can contribute to social change,” he said. “It captures the eye; it moves the soul; it puts a smile in your mind.”
“If you can apply that, whether you’re a startup chocolate company or you have a social cause and message you want to get out there, beauty and design and art has the power to move people.”
Mr. Durrell moved to Vancouver to work on design for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. He is a partner at design firm Hulse & Durrell, with clients including NBC Sports and the International Olympic Committee.
Mr. Durrell has been interested in design since he was a teenager, but concedes that his professional passion goes above the heads of many Canadians.
“At the end of the day, the biggest thing that people don’t understand is that good design is good business,” he said, referring to craft breweries in Vancouver, each distinct in the logo, as an example.
“What I love about great design is that it’s invisible – sometimes it works so incredibly well that you don’t even notice it’s there,” he said.
Mr. Durrell is hard-pressed to offer a production budget for the brisk 80-minute film, although he suggests it’s “somewhere” in six figures. A Kickstarter fundraising effort in 2017 raised about $120,000 for the project, which failed to win funding from film-development agencies in Canada.
Completing the project hinged on help from friends experienced in filmmaking working for the love of the project.
“I decided I would call myself a filmmaker and fake it until I made it,” Mr. Durrell said. “I didn’t work on it every day, but I damn well tried – birthdays, Christmas, New Years.
“I didn’t get paid anything for this. I don’t think I’ll see anything from this. It was just about a story I think was important to share with Canadians.”
The film is booked to play in theatres across Canada, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, St. John’s and other cities. There’s no deal, as of this week, to broadcast it.
However, Mr. Durrell is plucky about giving the film a platform. “I’ll build this thing one viewer at a time if I have to.”